Instructables
Picture of Sous vide cooker for less than $40
sous vide
[soo VEED]
French for "under vacuum," sous vide is a cooking process in which food is encased in an airtight plastic pouch (typically vacuum sealed) and cooked for a long period of time at a (precise) low temperature.  

Using traditional methods of cooking, you might put a steak on a 750 degree grill, attempting to get the center of the steak to a perfect medium-rare temperature of 130 degrees, without cooking the outside of the steak until it's gray and lifeless.  To make it even more difficult, even when you take the steak off the grill, the temperature of the center continues to increase due to the heat of the meat surrounding it.

The magic of sous vide is that you cook the entire piece of meat at the precise temperature you like.  To cook a steak to the perfect medium-rare temperature of 130 degrees, you cook the steak in 130 degree water.  It takes a lot longer to get a steak to 130 degrees by cooking at 130 degrees, but the benefits are worth it.

1) It's impossible to over-cook.  No part of the steak can get over cooked.
2) The entire steak, from "coast to coast" is exactly how you like it.
3) Timing is easy.  I usually cook my steaks for somewhere around six hours.  If your guests are late, an extra hour (or three) doesn't make any difference.
4) The fat in the steak is always perfectly rendered.  It's absolutely amazing how great inexpensive cuts of meat turn out when cooked sous vide for six hours.  

There are many sous vide cookers out there.  I'm more of a do-it-yourself (cheap) kind of guy, so I built my own sous vide cooker for less than $40.  The fancy, $500 cookers have water circulators and tenth-of-a-degree precision, but from my experience, that isn't necessary.  For $40, you can make absolutely incredible steak!
 
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Funkspieler2 years ago
I made this exactly as instructed and it's completely awesome. Have since made three more for friends. I don't even know how to read an electrical diagram. I also made the vacuum chamber, also awesome, inexpensive, and highly useful. Will think of you every time I sous vide my sockeye!
timsk made it!8 hours ago

I decided to do this using a cooler, and I'm very pleased with the result. :)

Parts list (with links for buying them in the UK):
• cooler: £19.99 if you don't already have one http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0001MQ8E4
• 4mm acrylic sheet big enough to cover your cooler: ~£14 http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/200980451609
• cup boiler: £13.75 http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B007OVCSSU
• digital temperature controller with thermocouple: £10.18 http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/171472800127
• project box: £3.75 from Maplin
• 4W submersible aquarium pump: £5.99 http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00LZNM770
• Sugru: 2 x 5g blue + 1 x 5g white to make colour-matched corner blobs that help the acrylic sheet to sit snugly on top of the cooler; and 1 x 5g white to hold the cup boiler in the hole in the acrylic sheet. http://sugru.com/

Total cost: ~£75. So not the "under $15" that some have claimed, but the £75 does include the price of a cooler, and you might be able to find some of the parts cheaper elsewhere. Good luck!

Method

Put the acrylic sheet on top of the cooler, draw round the top using a Sharpie, then use a jigsaw to cut out the shape.

Use a 36mm hole saw (e.g. http://www.screwfix.com/p/titan-holesaws-15-piece-... to make the hole for the Cup Boiler, then fix the Cup Boiler in place using white Sugru. Put four big blobs of Sugru near the corners of your acrylic sheet to hold it snugly on top of your cooler. Leave it all for 24 hours for the Sugru to cure.

Meanwhile, connect up the electrics. The pump should run continuously, while the Cup Boiler should be controlled by the thermostat.

I also fixed the project box to the acrylic sheet by replacing the box's four corner screws with longer ones that go through the acrylic.

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burkelashell (author)  timsk6 hours ago
Very nicely done. I really like the addition of the submersible aquarium pump. Great work!

Great idea and great lesson! Thanks,

Especially the techniques used to get the odd holes cut. Really useful! And if any of you haven't tried sous vide you gotta try it! Juciy tender results and dead easy to do.

sharpstick7 days ago

If you are concerned about running a device above the rated current, you can indeed use a relay. You could even use two or more on different breakers, or a higher current, 220 volt device.

I use a "bucket heater" designed to keep horse water troughs from freezing. The interface of that controller was annoying.

I've also burned out a couple even with nothing above their current limits. I now use a Johnson temp controller(I also use it for brewing, to cool a fermentation box.) It has simpler up down controls

I've used a large cooler with an airstone placed beneath the heater, later replaced with a water pump to distribute the heat evenly.

Some temperature probes are not waterproof. I've killed a couple oven probes in hot water. Either make sure the probe is waterproof, or put in in a thermowell of some sort. Most thermometers and probes are not capable of the accuracy required for sous vide. I highly recommend Thermoworks thermometers to calibrate your system. They're supposedly certified to be accurate, and I trust them.

cristiann16 days ago

I got all the parts but the pump. Has anyone used and external pump? something like an "Air-Stone" for aquariums . I was thinking that should do the trick...

Fabri1 month ago
I Made my sous vide controller last week and I'm using a deep fryer.
Even if your instructions are created and simple, I had some trouble wiring all the connections.
I cocked a beef steak and some salmon perfectly and I'm going on experimenting other recipes.
Thank you for this wonderful Instructables

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How many watts is your deep fryer? I was thinking about using a Nesco roaster for more volume but at 1450 Watts it comes to around 13 amps, exceeeding the max amperage of the controller.

hussmanne made it!2 months ago

Tried it out for the first time last night. Salmon came out great! Thank you for sharing. I have a project box that I'll be putting it in.

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Hey! I think i have the same temp controller as you, can you help me with the wiring... I am a noob at this type of stuff and I am having problems understanding the wiring...

Hi there, this worked best for me:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrdOpk10MkE
Had to keep pausing/rewinding the video, but got it eventually
johnniedoo1 month ago

I have known about sous vide for a long time, but only in name. Never used or worked with anyone who actually used it. This is a great how to or diy, I have it bookmarked. I dont think I would have ever tried it were it not for this. I am not sure I would be willing to wait for my steaks to get to 130° though and see a grey slab, then put into a beurre noir or noisette to put color and flavor on the outside. I have just opted for rare and stuck with that since long before they attached temp ranges for the done-ness categories. And, not sure what happens to all the fat that might get rendered out inside the plastic. I might use it for fish though and very lean meat. It is like the whole hot dog and sausage idea brought to the 21st century.(natural casings) water, not smoke.

thanks for these great tips-->and Xannadu's experiments with great pix too.

john

rehpotsirhc1 month ago

I'm definitely going to check this out for my own cheap sous vide setup. Seeing you test this with a light bulb made me think that this would be neat to use to build an easy bake oven with a halogen bulb.

Xannadu2 months ago

Mine's been running great and I love it! Beef, Salmon, infused booze, and even a Beef Tongue for Tacos de Lengua came out wonderful. I'd like to take it to the next level and try racks of ribs in a beer cooler. This will obviously require a heat source and my guess is one larger in power than the internal relay could handle. My questions are:

A) Is it possible to rig up a Solid State Relay to a similar controller used in this build?

or

B) Would 600w of immersion heaters be up to the task of holding a decent size cooler to temp as to allow me to use the internal relay?

or

C) I will need a new build using a PID controller with a Solid State Relay output.

As a side note I've found when using my slow cooker with this build, it is MUCH quicker to heat a pot of water on the stove, then pour into the cooker and let the controller handle normalizing the temp to your setting rather than letting the cooker do the heavy early heating.

burkelashell (author)  Xannadu2 months ago
Xannadu,

That's awesome! It sounds like you're getting some great results.

The controller should handle a 600w immersion heater. Double check your controller specs, but the specification sheet on my controller says the relay contract capacity is 10 amps.

volts*amps=watts

Flipping the equation, watts/volts=amps

So, 600w/110v=5.5a

My concern would be about circulating the water. If you don't have some sort of pump to circulate the water, you will have hot spots and cold spots in the cooler. Do a search for "water pump sous vide" and you'll find lots of options. For example, here's on on Amazon shipped for less than $20. http://www.amazon.com/temperature-15GPH-Water-Pump-grade/dp/B004HHW0FU/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Give it a try and let us know how it works. Take lots of pictures. If it works well, create your own "ible" so we can learn from your experience!

--Burke

Got my cooler version up and running. I used three Nopro 559 immersion heaters from Amazon I had seen in other DIY sous vide setups. I cut a piece of acrylic to fit the inner lip of my cooler, cut holes to feed the heaters through (tip: cut off the excess rubber around the heater plugs to make them fit through a hole small enough for the heaters to sit into nicely) and zap gooed (like a fast drying silicon) them into place. Then all it took was a plug splitter (power strip would work fine too) to attach to my controller and voila!

This setup allows me to cook larger/more items at once, comes up to temp faster than the crockpot, and due to the insulation holds temp VERY well. In testing I brought it up to 145 degrees and unplugged the heaters. After 2 hours the temp was only down to 143 degrees.

Thanks for all the help Burke I've been loving the sous vide experiments. I think I'm up to 6 controllers I have to build for people for xmas gifts :) Everyone else is getting Orange-Cherry Bourbon, Apple Pie Whiskey, and Limoncello all made using this controller! Now I'm off to make duck carnitas!

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burkelashell (author)  Xannadu2 months ago

Thanks for posting. I'm sure others will benefit from the "cooler version". Very nicely done. I love the acrylic.

I did build mine with a duplex receptacle with one switched and one constant hot so I could run a submersible pump I picked up for $7 from Amazon. In an alt build for a large container version the creator used three 300w immersion heaters through a Solid State Relay and PID controller. I am a bit afraid to run 900w into the controller's relay as it's getting really close to it's 10 amp limit. Do you think 2 300w (600w total) heaters will hold the temp for a large amount of water in a cooler? Also, here's my pics!

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burkelashell (author)  Xannadu2 months ago

>> I am a bit afraid to run 900w into the controller's relay as it's getting really close to it's 10 amp limit.

I'd go for it and run three. You're still within the limit.

Beautiful steak. Very nicely done!

Xannadu Xannadu2 months ago

Here's pics of my red wine infused pears, Brandy infused peaches (which also made peach brandy from the strained liquid), and beef tongue for Tacos de Lengua. To show this build's accuracy, Modernist Cuisine suggests running your bath 2 degrees F higher than you want your core temp even in a fancy $500 machine. I set the bath to 165 for the tongue and it came out a perfect 163.0. Great work Burk!

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MatthewD62 months ago

This guide is 100% awesome and it's easy to make, just like the food that comes out of it. Thank you.

tony.decoste.5 made it!3 months ago

Been looking for a sous vide hack for a while now. Easy Project! Cooking the first batch of 147 degree eggs now. What's everyone's source for recipes? Found this chart which is helpful https://www.polyscienceculinary.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Temp_Ref.jpg

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Here a easyer way.. To slow cook but its not Sous Vide per say as old as time.The "danger zone" according to the USDA is a window of time the meat is between 40F and 140F. That window of time should be no more than 2 hours. So how get around this?? And you want to get around this 140 overdone(medium) for a steak in my opinion 135 the perfect temp.. Easy pickled it, First I brine for 2 hours in at least a 20% salt bath, The I WASH IT a lot..Then I soak it in milk whey or kefir water for about 12 hour in a fridge fully covered.. (there no hostile bacteria left its been out competed, I know people that stored meat this way in a container with loose lib (nor air tight but secure) with 1/2 inch olive oil over the top to form a moisture seal for up to 6 years no refrigeration,basic Pickling) Now put it in the oven lowest setting (135 to 200) 12 hour later your good to eat Safe Soon as it internal temp 135!(now just turn it up to 500 and let it crisp/brown for 15 minutes or grab a blow torch! NOW EAT!) I do this with a 12 pound leg of lamb.They normally can not Sous Vide that big. But this way you can slow roast! Some one please try this with a camera!

For traditional sous vide, you aren't worried about the danger zone because you are vacuum sealing the food in a pouch while it is out of the zone, and then cooking it to a safe temp. If you are not using vacuum (like if you are using ziplock bags) then you should limit the cooking time to two hours or less.

oh remember to season it..lol forgot..here my favorite for lamb


  1. 1/2 cup rosemary leaves, minced
  2. 1/2 thyme leaves
  3. 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  4. 2 tablespoons Whole Dijon mustard
  5. 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  6. 1/2 cup honey
  7. Sage
  8. Lavender food grade
  9. Salt
  10. Ground black pepper
burkelashell (author) 5 months ago

Here's another take on the sous vide cooker by 24Eng. He uses a lot of the same ideas, but adds a 3.5 mm plug for the temperature controller, and a clever method to keep the temperature controller away from the sides of the cooker.

http://www.instructables.com/id/Sous-Vide-Oven-Controller/

pj627757 months ago
Great Instructable. I followed everything and got it working. I'm having a problem with over cooking. I put a steak in this morning for 4 hours at 135 and it's too done. I like my steak medium rare. What am I doing wrong?
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burkelashell (author)  pj627757 months ago

If you don't want that steak, I'll eat it! ;-)

One of the limitations of this cooker is the lack of a circulation pump to circulate the water and keep the temperature equal everywhere.

Three thoughts:

1) I like to put two separate vacuum packs with the temperature probe in between them. One pack tends to get cooked a little more than the other (which is good when you have multiple people eating with different preferences).

2) You might try some sort of "stand" to keep the steak off the bottom of the pot.

3) Try moving the probe around and see if there are "hot spots", and then try to adjust.

Let us know if you make an adjustment that improves your results.

-Burke

While poking around for DIY sous vide cookers I came across several that used an aquarium air pump and an air stone to circulate the water by bubbling air into water bath.

binarymein7 months ago

I made this a while ago and have been using it weekly at minimum ever since. Just now near the end of some 32 hour ribs, I found the controller displaying "HHH" instead of the temp. luckily I caught it before temps dropped into the danger zone but what is wrong with it? Maybe the sensor got water in it because of the extended soak time?

burkelashell (author)  binarymein7 months ago

I've never seen that. From my brief research, that looks like HHH means that the temperature is above the maximum temperature (but with this setup, that's impossible).

Were you able to reset the controller? Is it working now? If not, my guess would be that the probe is faulty.

After sitting about 3 hours outside the water bath I just tried it again. Said 121 degrees (obviously wrong) at first, then I touched it and it went to HHH again. I'll let it sit a few days and see if its maybe just water inside the sensor. Otherwise a 2 wire sensor off ebay is likely to fix it right? Thanks for finding out what the HHH means!
burkelashell (author)  binarymein7 months ago

>> Otherwise a 2 wire sensor off ebay is likely to fix it right?

I think so. The good news is that it'll cost you less than $5 (shipped) to find out.

blissb7 months ago

This is great! I made a couple of minor modifications to save money -- used a different box and didn't use the C14 receptacle. Came in less than $26! Thanks for this. Wish I'd thought of sacrificing an extension cord rather than getting the outlet -- I could have saved a couple more dollars. I was seriously starting to consider spending the $200+ on a pre-made. Now, I'm going to make a couple more of these for friends!

Colorado_Al made it!7 months ago

That is awesome! Thanks for the instructable! After reading your design, I ordered a similar controller, a project box and 6ft grounded extension cord. Foregoing the receptacle and outlet cut costs considerably. Mine came in at $29.70 for the controller. If I had been willing to wait for shipping from China, I could have saved $2.41, but I figured it was worth the extra to get the controller in 2 days by Amazon Prime.

Here is my parts list:

110v °F Controller with thermocouple http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00F05UI8O (If you choose "more buying choices" you can select one shipped by Amazon from the USA)

4.7"x4.7" Project box http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007POB8PK/

6' grounded extension cord http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002J1KS0

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burkelashell (author)  Colorado_Al7 months ago

Nice, clean build! Well done!

Maybe I should change the name of the Instructable to "Sous vide cooker for less than $30" ;-)

Thanks! Couldn't have done it without your instructions. I've used it 3 times now and my wife went from extremely skeptical to asking what else we can use it for!

vatoniolo made it!7 months ago

Mine has cost me under $15 thus far... controller was $14 and a 90 cent box from my local thrift store. The same thrift store has a variety of crock pots for around $5, so even after the wire connectors I might stay under $20

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burkelashell (author)  vatoniolo7 months ago

I love the box. I'm not sure what my favorite thing about it is:

1) It's cheaper than the plastic box I used

2) It's easier to work with than the hard plastic.

3) It looks so freaking cool.

Nice job!

I'd make sure that the cord you are using can handle the load. I think the controller is rated at 10A, not sure how much your crock pot will draw. I like the bamboo box!

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